In an effort to study extra about conservation diving, I did the Ecological Monitoring Program course with Black Turtle Dive in Koh Tao, Thailand. Was it value it? That is my expertise.
From the very first time I donned a regulator and BCD and began my open water scuba diving journey in Honduras means again in 2011, I knew I needed to spend as a lot time as potential within the sea.
I’ve at all times been fascinated by the wonder and variety of the underwater world, and seeing it from the depths for an hour at a time was a life altering expertise.
It led me on a path to guard the world’s oceans, and from the day on I took motion on minimising my private waste consumption and joined seaside clean-ups to do my half.
Now that I dwell on the Nice Barrier Reef, that keenness for the oceans has solely grown.
However how may I take my love of diving and the ocean to new ranges and turn out to be an energetic a part of conservation?
For those who’re like me, I assumed the one means ahead was to dedicate years of my life to marine biology.
That was till my most up-to-date journey to Koh Tao, Thailand.
I used to be on a marketing campaign with the tourism board to doc the conservation and sustainability efforts being undertaken within the nation, and having centered my earlier journeys on wildlife and community-based tourism, it was time to show my power to the ocean.
On my first go to to Koh Tao in 2014 I accomplished my PADI Rescue Course, together with my Wreck and Enriched Air (Nitrox) specialties to additional advance my abilities.
Now with round 100 dives beneath my belt, I returned in 2023 to dive as a lot as potential and doc my experiences as I stepped into the world of conservation.
It’s no secret that I really like Koh Tao, and it was an actual pleasure to be returning to the place that just about turned dwelling and begin to give again to the reefs.
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Nearly all of my time on this beautiful island was devoted to doing the Koh Tao Ecological Monitoring Program (EMP) course with Black Turtle Dive, and it proved to be one in every of my most transformative experiences since first getting licensed as a scuba diver greater than a decade in the past.
Lastly I started to grasp the significance of marine conservation with firsthand expertise, and the way I may make a significant distinction.
On this weblog put up, I’ll share my expertise with the EMP course, what I realized, and the way it modified my perspective as a diver without end.
What’s the Ecological Monitoring Program in Koh Tao?
The Ecological Monitoring Program (EMP) is a specialised scuba diving course that focuses on the documentation and conservation of marine ecosystems.
Supplied by the non-profit organisation Conservation Divers, and carried out completely in Thailand by the skilled staff at Black Turtle Dive in Koh Tao, the course teaches divers concerning the complicated relationships inside coral reef ecosystems, numerous marine species identification, and the methods required for underwater surveys.
The Ecological Monitoring Program is historically a 4-day course (I squeezed mine into 3 days, however would advocate the additional day) and combines sensible diving abilities with in-depth information of marine biology and ecological monitoring methods.
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The objective is to equip divers with the instruments and understanding essential to contribute successfully to ongoing conservation efforts, not simply in Koh Tao however all over the world.
The entire knowledge collected throughout these reef surveys, that are finished weekly in Koh Tao, are then uploaded to a government-approved database in order that scientists can observe the well being of the reef over time.
For instance they will test the info from a survey finished instantly after a storm occasion with the earlier survey to see the results the storm had on numerous species, or see how elevated boat site visitors is affecting marine life.
I’ve since found that these are the identical varieties of surveys carried out by marine biologists all around the globe, together with at my dwelling on Magnetic Island within the Nice Barrier Reef.
It’s a vastly useful and worthwhile course, and I used to be past thrilled to be studying these abilities.
My Expertise with the EMP Course at Black Turtle Dive
From the second I arrived for my EMP course with Black Turtle Dive, I knew I used to be in for an exquisite and academic expertise.
Steve, Matt and the entire staff at Black Turtle Dive are extremely educated and obsessed with marine conservation, and having lived and owned companies on Koh Tao for over 20 years, they love this island as a lot as anyone.
Their enthusiasm for conservation was infections, and this made the training expertise each partaking and pleasant.
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My teacher was Steve, who was additionally one of many co-founders of Black Turtle Dive, and it didn’t take lengthy earlier than we began to kind an excellent friendship over scrumptious espresso of their cafe within the lead as much as our program.
As I used to be doing a fast-tracked course, the primary two days could be damaged up into studying about totally different indicator species of invertebrates, substrates and fish, adopted by a sensible survey dive.
The ultimate day could be the written evaluation adopted by the sensible examination. Assuming I handed each, I might then be a licensed EMP conservation diver.
The Classroom Periods
The course started with a classroom session the place we delved into coral reef ecology, indicator fish species, and invertebrate identification.
The primary day was going to be devoted to invertebrates, as Steve felt that was the toughest factor of the course.
Steve shared fascinating insights into the fragile steadiness of marine ecosystems and the significance of sustaining their well being, not simply from textbooks however drawing on his personal expertise diving Koh Tao and all over the world for longer than I’ve been alive.
The scientific and organic points of the invertebrate teachings was fairly complicated, and whereas I positively requested quite a lot of questions for clarification, by the top of the primary morning I felt like I used to be starting to get a superb understanding of this fascinating phase of marine life.
Conducting the Invertebrate Survey
After lunch we received kitted out in our dive gear, all equipped by Black Turtle, and commenced our dive briefing.
The dive web site was within the bay proper off of Sairee Seashore, and we jumped in Black Turtle’s custom-made solar-powered dingy to get to the placement.
5 minutes later we rigged up, did our buddy checks. and jumped in.
The beginning of the dive required tying a 100m tape to a pre-installed piece of rebar, which outlined one finish of the survey web site, and the navigating by utilizing a compass to the opposite pole 100m away.
Steve navigated on this primary dive and I adopted behind operating the tape out, permitting it to fall in a straight line it doesn’t matter what was beneath us.
On the far finish we tied it off, did one other test and Steve instructed me to begin my survey.
For the invertebrate survey I might observe the 100m line, zig-zagging backwards and forwards throughout to create a 5m large zone the place the tape intersects.
Sustaining good impartial buoyancy, which was paramount to having the ability to conduct the survey with out touching or damaging something, I actively appeared for each single kind of indicator species that was nice on my slate.
These indicators have been particularly chosen by the staff at Black Turtle and Conservation Diver for his or her symbiotic, optimistic or unfavorable roles within the marine ecosystem, and by monitoring their numbers we may create an total view of the well being of the reef.
If I noticed any I’d mark it down on the slate, after which proceed on with a eager eye out for extra.
Steve adopted behind, watching my work, and from time to time he’d name me again to level out a nudibranch or one other small invertebrate that I’d missed.
As soon as I’d seen them my eyes turned extra fine-tuned, and I figuring out species turned simpler.
After the primary 20m Steve gestured that I ought to choose up the velocity barely with the intention to full the whole 100m survey.
I glanced at my dive laptop and realised that 20m had taken me almost half-hour!
Being so enthralled and centered on the duty meant that point was getting away from us. Air consumption wasn’t a problem, as I discovered myself sustaining buoyancy with no downside and my respiration was sluggish and calm, however in truth we didn’t have all day!
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I continued down the road, choosing up the tempo, and ultimately reached the top with a full slate in 70 minutes.
Ascending to the floor we met our boat and headed again to shore.
After we cleaned up and packed away our dive gear Steve went over my slate and was overwhelmingly optimistic together with his suggestions.
He assured me that going sluggish was fully regular for first-timers, and gave a number of tips about the place to search for totally different species.
That concluded the primary day, and naturally we discovered ourselves again within the Black Turtle Dive bar to take pleasure in a number of sundown beers earlier than calling it an early night time.
The Fish and Substrate Surveys
On day 2 we mixed fish and substrates into one big classroom session, after which went again out for 2 back-to-back dives to finish the surveys.
Returning to the identical location this time it was my flip to navigate, and I used to be quietly pleased with myself for maintaining my bearing virtually good and arriving to the top level solely a metre out over the 100 metres.
Steve adopted behind operating the road, after which my substrate survey started.
For this one I used to be to swim 50cm then mark down the precise substrate that was beneath the tape – kind of coral, rock, sand, rubble, and so on.
I accomplished this survey fairly shortly, and after reeling within the line Steve took me off to the Black Turtle coral transplant backyard to assist transfer some concrete substrates that have been getting used to develop new coral.
Wrapping that up we loved a really leisurely dive again to shore and took our security cease on the seaside.
Again to the dive web site I navigated to the place to begin as soon as extra and got here again for the fish survey.
This time I might swim very slowly down the road, seeking to the left and proper 2.5m out and 5m excessive, creating a complete 5 sq. metre house and write down each single kind of indicator fish species I may discover.
It truly is superb simply what you see whenever you take your time and give attention to looking out.
A seemingly bare little bit of coral would come to life with lots of of fish whenever you decelerate and actually look, and just like the invertebrate survey I discovered this one taking me over an hour.
The actual problem was that fish after all transfer, so I’d must always take into consideration whether or not that angel fish I noticed was the identical one I noticed 10 seconds in the past. Ultimately I believe I did alright.
The afternoon wrapped up the identical as the primary, with beers, laughs and good conversations again on the bar.
Finishing the Exams
You possibly can’t do a course with no take a look at on the finish, and the morning of the third day was devoted to finishing my written examination.
Answering questions on reef ecology, symbiotic relationships and the refined organic variations between particular person substrates, invertebrates and fish was fairly troublesome, however Steve was readily available to assist work by means of any questions I used to be uncertain of.
Ending with the required a 100% rating, the ultimate take a look at was to do the sensible examination on a survey of my selection.
“You possibly can choose any survey you need. Invertebrates is the toughest so I’d advocate that one, however it’s totally as much as you,” Steve chimed in whereas kitting up.
“Invertebrates it’s!” I exclaimed, and we jumped into the boat and again out to the dive web site.
With 3 surveys beneath my belt now I breezed by means of the examination in good time, ending in about 45 minutes and finishing all duties to a passable stage.
Fist-bumping underwater, Steve and I then spent about 20 minutes packing the positioning up and swimming again to shore, exploring the surprisingly stunning reef that’s so near Koh Tao’s predominant seaside.
I used to be now a licensed Ecological Monitoring Program Conservation Diver, prepared to affix in on any future reef surveys in Koh Tao.
All the info I had collected would now be uploaded to the database, which might in flip be used to realize larger understandings of the Koh Tao coral reefs and power optimistic change to guard them.
All through the course, Steve at Black Turtle Dive emphasised the requirements of accountable diving practices, equivalent to correct buoyancy management and avoiding contact with coral, alongside the fascinating science behind conservation and marine biology.
These classes not solely made me a greater diver but in addition bolstered the significance of minimising our impression on the underwater setting.
Now it was time to go dwelling and begin my very own reef surveys with the marine biologists that dwell round me, and choose up the slate once more subsequent time I’m on Koh Tao.
However first, a number of extra sundown beers with Steve, Matt and the entire Black Turtle Dive staff.
My Ideas on the EMP Course
I can not overstate simply how unimaginable the EMP course with Black Turtle Dive was ultimately.
Your complete staff was extremely supportive, fostering an setting the place studying and private development have been held on the highest commonplace whereas additionally educating real-world conservation abilities.
One facet of the course that notably resonated with me was the emphasis on collaboration.
The information we collected is clearly an excessive amount of for only one individual to deal with, and it’s by working carefully with our fellow divers to conduct underwater surveys, share observations, and analyse the info we collected that we will proceed to make an even bigger distinction.
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This collaborative strategy fostered a way of camaraderie amongst the divers at Black Turtle and bolstered the concept that we will obtain extra important ends in conservation by working collectively.
Furthermore, the hands-on nature of the course allowed me to witness firsthand the great thing about Koh Tao’s marine ecosystems and the challenges they face.
It was each humbling and provoking to grasp that our actions, as divers and as people, could make a tangible distinction within the preservation of those unimaginable underwater environments.
How the EMP Course Modified My Perspective as a Diver
The EMP course with Black Turtle Dive was a transformative expertise that modified my perspective as a diver.
The information and abilities I gained have allowed me to see the underwater world by means of a brand new lens – one centered on conservation and accountable diving practices.
Earlier than taking the EMP course, I used to be primarily captivated by the wonder and pleasure of diving. At all times desirous to see the large issues like sharks and turtles, or the gorgeous species like nudibranchs.
Now, I’m extra conscious of the fragility of marine ecosystems and the very important position that divers can play of their preservation.
I’ve turn out to be extra aware of my actions and decisions whereas diving, striving to minimise my impression on the underwater setting.
Moreover, the EMP course has impressed me to turn out to be an advocate for marine conservation.
I now really feel empowered to share my experiences and information with fellow divers and buddies, encouraging them to turn out to be accountable ocean ambassadors as properly.
Doing the EMP Course into Your Koh Tao Go to
For those who’re planning a go to to Koh Tao, Thailand, and are already a licensed scuba dive with a love of our oceans, I extremely advocate integrating the Ecological Monitoring Program course into your itinerary.
Koh Tao is just not solely recognized for its gorgeous pure magnificence, however it is usually recognised as probably the greatest and most inexpensive locations on the planet to discover ways to scuba dive.
To take part within the EMP course, you’ll be able to merely attain out to Black Turtle Dive.
It’s a good suggestion to e-book your course prematurely, as slots could refill shortly, particularly throughout peak season.
Remember that the EMP course usually lasts for a number of days, so plan your go to accordingly to make sure you have sufficient time to finish the coaching.
When you’re in Koh Tao, be sure to discover the island’s different sights, equivalent to climbing to picturesque viewpoints, seaside hopping, and sampling the native Thai delicacies.
The mix of pure magnificence, numerous actions, and the EMP course will undoubtedly make your Koh Tao go to an unforgettable expertise.
Taking the Ecological Monitoring Program course with Black Turtle Dive in Koh Tao, Thailand, was a very life-changing expertise.
Not solely did I study useful abilities and information about marine conservation, however it additionally reworked the best way I strategy scuba diving and deepened my appreciation for the underwater world.
I extremely advocate the EMP course to any diver seeking to make a optimistic impression on marine ecosystems and elevate their diving expertise to new heights.
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